Film #180: Mr. Holmes (2015)

mr-holmes-movieDirector: Bill Condon
Language: English and a bit of Japanese
Length: 104 minutes
Watched on: 6 January 2016 (return flight 2/3)

Having been unlucky with my last plane movie selection, on my way back to Japan I was a bit more careful and tried to stick to things I’d heard good reviews of, so this movie was my second choice, already noted for Ian McKellen’s performance by other reviewers.

It’s a movie about Sherlock Holmes, but it adds the twist that he’s grown into an old man and is becoming senile. He lives in a hideaway in some rural part of southern England, near white cliffs so perhaps Kent, and busies himself with beekeeping. The story concerns him writing his memoirs, but being unable to recall the details of a particular incident that happened around the time he retired. He has a young servant boy who is his confidante and who helps him around the house – the actor for this character is very good at his job.

As with all Sherlock Holmes stories, there is a mystery, but in this case, there are actually three semi-interlocking plots, told in fragments, and deftly revealed gradually throughout the movie (the third is when an older Holmes travels to Japan to meet a businessman who blames him for the disappearance of his father). Sometimes movies try to do something like this, but I think the dementia aspect of the plot of this movie allowed the creators to experiment and do things that wouldn’t always work – it doesn’t feel clumsy when vital details are revealed to us late in the movie, because we are following the path of Holmes’ own mind.

Comparing it to other recent depictions of Sherlock Holmes, it doesn’t try to be slick or use a lot of CGI, which I appreciate. I did notice one of the solutions near the end, which wasn’t as well hidden as the others – when watching the BBC’s series, the solutions are either glaringly signposted, or so completely from left-field that I’m left bamboozled, and the ones in this movie were not. They were realistic. Reference is made directly to the Thing that Holmes does when he solves a mystery, when he starts noticing all the tiny details that no-one else does, but it’s not taken overboard, like in the Guy Ritchie movies.

Furthermore, as a depiction of the gradual descent into senility, it’s doing pretty well. I realized part of the way through that Ian McKellen is not as old as the character he is depicting on screen, and that he’s been made to look older using make-up, but it was a bit distressing seeing him going through the emotions associated with growing old. Not to mention being worried that McKellen himself will eventually grow old and senile, it reminded me that those such as my grandmother will do the same eventually.

One more thing is that the setting is well-depicted – I think it’s interbellum England and Japan – and believable in all the details. This adds to the movie’s credibility. I think this movie deserves any acclaim it gets. Perhaps it is not so profound or original as to be an instant classic, but I really liked it and will recommend it.


Film #179: The Martian (2015)

martianDirector: Ridley Scott
Language: English and some Chinese
Length: 144 minutes
Watched on: 6 January 2016 (return flight 1/3)

I was very pleased to see this movie on the entertainment system on the way back to Japan (side note: the KLM flight had a much better system and selection than I’ve had before, with a decent sized screen on a kind of iPad. Thumbs up) – the main reason being that it wouldn’t be released in Japan until February, and I’d been looking forward to it a lot, going so far as to have already started listening to the audiobook. At the time I watched this, I was a few chapters in, and could recognize a lot of similarity already. (I’ll review that separately later)

The movie is about Matt Damon’s character trapped on Mars, and having to go through a series of increasingly hair-brained schemes in order to get back to Earth. It’s funny and it lived up to my expectations, in general. The story does feel a bit contrived at times, but in a forgivable way. Admittedly, this gets worse as it goes on and it becomes a series of unexpected disasters that happen to Matt Damon.

So I recommend it in general. I bet it’s really beautiful on the big screen, although after a while it became obvious that it was filmed in a small area of the Arabian desert in Jordan, as the landscape was repetitive yet impressive mountains, and not much in the way of craters – having read the book and researched the location a bit, this is more obvious, as he’s supposed to be on an open plain. Basically it could be a little more realistic, but what they’ve done is pretty impressive.

Film #178: Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-ManDirector: Peyton Reed
Language: English
Length: 117 minutes
Watched on: 28 December (plane 4/4)

This was the fourth movie I watched on the plane back to the UK last year – and after the last two failures of judgement I decided to go for something a little light-hearted that I had seen good reviews for. I’m not a big fan of superhero movies in general – I kind of balk whenever I see things related to the Avengers and Iron Man in general, and this movie is set in the same universe. It’s not that I’m opposed to them, though, it’s just that… I guess I find the fans a bit rabid. Same reason I’ve gone right off BBC’s Sherlock – in itself it wouldn’t be so bad, but the fans have a screw loose.

Anyway, despite him often playing asshole straight boys, I have a little soft spot for Paul Rudd, if I’m honest. He plays the titular character Ant-Man, at first an ex-con just released from prison who can’t hold down a job because of his previous convictions, and later a superhero who can shrink down to tiny sizes, and for some reason can control ants with his mind. I think we’re just supposed to go with that, and my sleep-deprived mind was perfectly happy to do so, as I still found the story compelling enough.

It’s no masterpiece, but I wouldn’t expect that of it. It’s popcorn-fodder and happy in that role. More than anything, it was fun and not always what you’d expect from a superhero – he has characteristics of an anti-hero too.

(I’m kind of looking forward to Deadpool for the ultimate anti-hero movie, but it’s still not out on these fair shores. (I have two options – wait another two weeks or torrent it like any forward-thinking global citizen…) Soon, though.)

Anyway, I enjoyed this. I can’t say for sure if it was only in comparison to the travesties that came before it on my journey, but on a basic level I felt more comfortable watching it, like I didn’t have to put up with bad production values and acting, and I could just enjoy it for what it is.

Film #177: Family for Rent (2015)

unefamillealoueraka: Une famille à louer
Director: Jean-Pierre Améris
Language: French
Length: 97 minutes
Watched on: 28 December 2015 (plane 3/4)

One problem I have with watching movies on a plane is that I don’t have access to the internet in order to make a balanced decision about what to watch. My usual threshold is at least 6 or 7 stars on IMDB, for all that the opinions of people who use IMDB matter at all. On getting off the plane and checking the reviews later my suspicions with this movie were confirmed – it only has 5.3 stars.

I think I always have this problem when looking at a country’s local cinematic offerings – it’s very hard to separate the wheat from the ever-present chaff. This is a barely-passable French comedy about a rich guy who decides he wants a family and moves in with a woman who’s been on TV for shoplifting, or something. Like all French comedy, it boils down to class – the rich man who thinks he can pay his way through life and the working-class single mother who loves her children very much just scratching the surface.

I just got quickly frustrated with the absurd situation and the unlikable characters, but I stuck it out… because I guess most other movies on Air France’s entertainment system would be just as bad. I was also creeped out by the age difference of the main characters… and just didn’t find the movie funny.

The kids were good actors, though.

Film #176: Attack on Titan (2015)

attackontitanaka: Shingeki no kyojin (進撃の巨人)
Director: Shinji Higuchi
Language: Japanese
Length: 98 minutes
Watched on: 28 December 2015 (plane 2/4)

OK, I’d been warned about this movie before I watched it – live action adaptations of Japanese comics don’t have a good reputation, and this is supposed to be a pretty bad example.

The plot seems to be that the Titans, big brainless zombie-giants, are attacking humanity from all angles, and have boxed humanity in to a fenced off area (reminiscent of the central part of ”The Maze Runner” for me). The movie follows some young army recruits who are sent to destroy the virtually-indestructible beasts, as it turns out they can kill them by stabbing them in the neck or something. And for some reason they have to use Spidermanesque jet-packs. Who are these Titans, anyhow? Are they magic? Questions like that were left unanswered – presumably they’re explored in the comic, which the filmmakers assume we’ve all read.

I didn’t really get what was going on for most of the movie, and my disbelief was thoroughly unsuspended by the three teenage leads’ lack of acting skill, and the fact that their hair stays in a perfect emo swish for the entire movie despite being dirty and grubby elsewhere. When the battle scenes come later in the movie, what they were actually doing escaped me, and I didn’t get why they had to use jet-packs (surely they could have just blown the things up). There are a few twists and reveals, but they were clumsy and unexplained.

I also wasn’t expecting these giant sexless naked monsters, too, and the CGI was really awkward (the faces didn’t sit well on the bodies). The actors playing the Titans seemed to be enjoying themselves too much, again cutting through suspension of disbelief.

I guess if I want to actually find out more about this work I’ll have to read the manga. I think I can live without it. It’s a shame really – the comic and anime are supposed to be good, but this film really wasn’t.